Enjoying the South Shore in winterEDDY GILMORE: My annual journey by ski into the wilderness is for me the equivalent of how others view their trips to Florida and Vegas. Rejuvenation springs forth through intense physical effort tempered by relaxation, silence and camaraderie with good friends.
My annual journey by ski into the wilderness is for me the equivalent of how others view their trips to Florida and Vegas. Rejuvenation springs forth through intense physical effort tempered by relaxation, silence and camaraderie with good friends.
For 15 years this trip has been made up the North Shore, venturing deep into the backcountry to an ancient shack on public land that is collectively maintained by the few people familiar with it. Looking out the front door of this cabin, facing north, you see sweeping views across the international boundary and toward the fantastic topography that Ontario has to offer.
Six miles of travel through deep snow over and under downed trees, and bruising through brush takes a toll, though. We’ve wanted to try something easier. I’m a firm believer that effort of the epic sort is essential for any adventure, but sometimes it’s helpful to remain a click or so on this side of exhaustion. Therefore we looked to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a change of pace.
Last year our trip abruptly canceled due to a lack of snow, and a broken ankle on my part, so this time I was determined to go no matter what. Life threw many curves in an attempt to derail it again this year. All of us and our families were sick before leaving, the friend who is a property manager had a fire in one of his buildings hours before departure, and then an unexpected foot of snow fell the night before we left. I’m grateful that our annual pilgrimage was a success, even after all the last-minute adversity.
The Porkies did not disappoint. We stayed in a backcountry yurt, which for the three of us cost $20 each per night. The ski in was only 3 miles on an impeccably groomed trail, so in comparison this almost seemed like we were cheating. The yurt was simple, built to sleep four, containing a wood stove, an ample supply of firewood, a simple table with benches, a wood floor, and a skylight you could raise in case it got too warm.
On a trip spanning only two nights, it was luxurious to have all the cut, split, and dried firewood we would need. Additionally, the wood stove was easy to use in order to maintain a comfortable temperature so as not to cook ourselves out of there. The stove we are used to is a converted barrel that burns a tremendous volume of material, but is difficult to regulate. Many a night we have all simultaneously awoken with temperatures in the cabin easily in the triple digits. The smaller stove in the yurt was efficient, and kept us only as toasty as necessary.
With all the energy we saved on the ski in, we were able to enjoy a 10-mile loop through a portion of the interior of the park. Our journey was along rivers, and consequently didn’t take us up to higher country with expansive views. The forest itself was most noteworthy, however. Half the journey was over groomed trail, and the other half was straight backcountry as we skied through fresh powder.
The forest is very wide open, and not a continuous tangle. You can see through the trees for a considerable distance due to vast tracts of old growth. It is positively magical. The snow was about 4 feet deep in the interior, and this was our last taste of true winter for the season.
I’m convinced we were there on the last possible day of good skiing. The snow was perfect, and temperatures were in the upper 20s. On the day we left the temperatures were becoming too warm even then, with forecasts of warmer temperatures to come.
I recommend the Porkies to you, and particularly the entire Union Spring trail. It is dynamite. The groomed trails are fantastic as well, meandering through varied topography and types of forest. They are narrow and intimate, and are groomed only for classic skiing.
If you can pack in a sleeping bag, a couple good books, a bright red union suit, and enjoy the company of friends who are otherwise busy with life, the Porkies might be the place for you.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.